In this contribution to our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Margaret Weir explores how social solidarity manifests across differing contexts. She makes three points of contrast between the United Kingdom and the United States: pre-existing healthcare institutions, economic stimulus strategies, and public leadership on racial and ethnic differences. Weir argues that these three areas explain why social solidarity has been maintained in the United Kingdom compared to the United States despite similar national attempts to confront the Covid-19 pandemic.
The spread of the novel coronavirus across the globe poses an enormous public health and economic crisis; similarly, it is a crisis of, and for governance. This may be especially the case for democracies, as in such emergency situations public safety concerns are weighed against foundational freedoms and the norms and expectations of a democratic citizenry. In these fraught times, Items seeks to call attention to the democratic politics of pandemics.
These thought-provoking and timely essays investigate the implications of Covid-19, pandemics, and major crises more generally, for democratic governance. Through this forum, Items brings a diverse array of scholars into conversation by asking: How does a public health threat the scale of Covid-19 shape democratic governance—from institutional dynamics and the role of government to citizen participation? Furthermore, what can we learn from how responses to Covid-19 differ across contexts—about inequalities, political processes, and the strengths or weaknesses of varieties of democracy?
Jacob Haselswerdt (University of Missouri)
Jamila Michener (Cornell University)
Julia Lynch (University of Pennsylvania)
Rosemary Taylor (Tufts University)
Claudia Landwehr (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz)
Armin Schaefer (University of Münster)
This essay series, and the work of the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program, is possible due to generous funding from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, the Mark and Anla Cheng Kingdon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
María Victoria Murillo outlines some of the immediate consequences of Covid-19 for democratic governance in Latin America for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series. Comparing cases across the region, she notes that the pandemic has weakened two crucial mechanisms for democratic accountability—elections and protests—across contexts, while at the same time strengthening strongman executives and increasing intragovernmental tensions. Murillo argues that the region needs creative new policies to reopen avenues for political accountability that might strengthen democratic governance.
Thomas Pepinsky explores one explanation for why some countries are more successful at managing Covid-19 than others for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series. By comparing the accomplishments of social democracies like Germany and “developmental states” like South Korea with the relative failures of democracies like Italy and the United States, he explores which traits among advanced, capitalist democracies entail more effective policy responses. Pepinsky argues that the strong role of the state in the national economy is the common through line among democracies that have fared better. Ultimately, successful democratic responses to dealing with pandemics is a matter of political economy.
Risk for “Us,” or for “Them”? The Comparative Politics of Diversity and Responses to AIDS and Covid-19by Evan Lieberman
In his essay for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Evan Lieberman writes about the influence of social diversity on the politics of infectious disease control. How does the articulation of ethnic, racial, and national boundaries impede effective policy responses? Using the AIDS crisis as a comparative case-study, Lieberman asks if data that emphasize ethnic, racial, and national categories—while they may be intended to highlight and mitigate disparities—have the potential to stigmatize vulnerable groups during a pandemic. He calls on social science to investigate how such categories influence risk perceptions, citizen behaviors, and government responses.
Writing for the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Jonathan S. Hack and Cole Edick examine the deference of the judiciary toward other branches of government during crises, such as the ongoing pandemic. How deferential will courts be toward broad government action by executives and legislatures that restrict rights and liberties in the name of ensuring public health and safety? Pointing to historical precedent and recent coronavirus-related cases brought before the judiciary in the United States, they argue that courts are likely to act as legitimating agents that promote and expand state police power in times of crisis.
In this essay for our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, Miguel Centeno reviews T.H. Marshall’s trilogy of civil, political, and social rights, raising questions about how such rights might be affected during major systemic crises. Can democracies successfully manage systemic challenges under global crisis conditions, with attention to each set of rights? Are some rights easier to defend than others during crises? And, when is the collective good allowed to supersede individual freedoms? He calls for democratic theory to answer these questions, arguing that systemic crises represent a similar challenge to democracy as natural disaster or war.